...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Many Faces of Fetch

by Jacki Skole

“Dog, you get dumber by the day.”
I lift my head from my book. Kevin is standing in the middle of our backyard talking to Galen. She is several yards away on a small island of black mulch that circles a tree near where our yard ends and our neighbor’s begins. Galen’s purple ball—it looks like an oversized kettle bell—rests on the ground in front of her. She picks it up by its handle, shakes it furiously, then returns it to the earth.
“Bring the ball,” Kevin says for the third, maybe fourth, time. I watch the scene unfold from our deck—my husband and my dog are infinitely more interesting than the story I am reading.
Galen stands her ground. At this, Kevin turns and walks toward the back of our property, which stretches for two acres. Galen darts after him.
Kevin and Galen are engaged in a tug-of-war of sorts over the rules by which the game of fetch should be played. Kevin would prefer the traditional rules: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves. Dog returns ball to human. Galen prefers a more complex version of the game: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves it and runs to the mulch (or to a mound of wood chips, remnants of a tree that once shaded the deck). Human approaches dog and repeatedly tries to kick ball out of dog’s mouth as dog raises her hips in the iconic downward-facing dog posture, all the while refusing to release the ball until the human says, “Drop it.”
Interestingly, Galen isn’t our first dog to refuse to play fetch the way the game was intended. Gryffin, too, had established his own rules, which called for a stick in addition to a ball. In Gryffin’s version: Human throws stick. Dog retrieves it and waits for human to throw ball. Then, with stick in mouth, dog chases and then pounces on ball. Human walks to dog, grabs stick, then ball. In neither Galen’s nor Gryffin’s fetch does the dog return the ball to the human.
I often wonder how it is that Kevin and I raised two dogs who can’t play a traditional game of fetch. Sometimes I like to think it’s that we raised our dogs much like we are raising our two daughters—to be creative, independent thinkers for whom we provide the parameters within which they are permitted a large percentage of freedom.
Mostly, however, I concede that our dogs trained us better than we trained them.
Back from their walk, Galen grabs her purple ball by the handle and runs to Kevin. He pets her, heaps praise upon her. This is how the game is played, he tells her. Then he hurls the ball across the yard. Galen retrieves it and runs… back to the mulch. She shakes the ball and looks at Kevin expectantly. This time it’s Kevin who stands his ground.
I smile. It will be only a few seconds before Kevin walks toward Galen. You see, she is the more stubborn of the two. And she’s no dummy. She knows she’s trained him well.

Jacki Skole is an award-winning journalist and adjunct professor of communication. She launched her journalism career at CNN, first as a news writer, then as a producer in the network’s documentary unit; she’s also produced programs for Animal Planet and HGTV.
Jacki lives in New Jersey with her husband and three daughters—two human, one canine. It is Galen, Jacki’s canine daughter, who inspired the journey that resulted in DOGLAND.

About Dogland
Soon after Jacki Skole brought home an eight-week-old puppy from a New Jersey rescue organization, she wondered how such a young animal could have so many idiosyncrasies—so she set out to find an answer. Dogland, an extraordinary mix of memoir and investigative journalism, follows Skole’s journey to trace the origins of her newest family member.
Along the way, Skole interviewed dozens who work in the world of animal rescue—from shelter managers to animal rights activists—taking readers from dilapidated county-run shelters in the South to strip malls in the Northeast where rescue groups seek homes for homeless pets, and from rural and urban “vet deserts” to the very heart of the South’s complex relationship with companion dogs.
Amid the serious issues facing shelter dogs in America, Skole found tireless animal advocates and humble visionaries who believe their ideas and their passion can save canine lives throughout the South—and the entire United States.
Helpful Links:
DOGLAND on Amazon
Twitter @JackiSkole
Facebook fan page

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Excerpt from STRAYS by Jennifer Caloyeras

It's my pleasure to welcome Jennifer Caloyeras, author of Strays (published by Ashland Creek Press in May) back to WOA. Today, Jennifer shares the following excerpt from Chapter 5 of Strays (with permission of the publisher). ~ Sheila 

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody has a problem controlling her temper, but then, she has a lot to be angry about. Dead mother. Workaholic father. Dumped by her boyfriend. Failing English. 
When a note in Iris's journal is mistaken as a threat against her English teacher, she finds herself in trouble not only with school authorities but with the law. 
In addition to summer school, dog-phobic Iris is sentenced to an entire summer of community service, rehabilitating troubled dogs. Iris believes she is nothing like Roman, the three-legged pit bull who is struggling to overcome his own dark past, not to mention the other humans in the program. But when Roman's life is on the line, Iris learns that counting on the help of others may be the only way to save him.
In this scene, Iris meets Roman for the first time.

Apparently my time in court had been more exhausting than I had realized—it was way past noon when I finally opened my eyes. Luckily summer school didn’t start until the next week.
Was it all a dream, or had I really been assigned to community service work involving dogs? I forced myself out of bed and listened to Mr. Spencer’s chipper voice on the machine again. To my major disappointment, it wasn’t all a bad dream.
It was my reality.
There was hardly any coffee left in the pot (it was as though Dad were trying to punish me by finishing it all himself). I grabbed a pair of dirty jeans off the floor and threw on a sweatshirt. The dogs wouldn’t care about my appearance. If I could just explain to whomever was in charge that I was absolutely the wrong person for this job, maybe they’d let me do office work or something in order to fulfill my community service requirement.
At Zachary’s, my favorite breakfast spot on Pacific Avenue, I ordered their largest to-go cup of coffee. Even though the brew was better at Pergolesi, there was no way I was going to risk running into Ashley there. So much for my summer of free coffee.
I had the fortunate talent of being able to ride a bike one-handed so that my other hand could be free to swat at mosquitoes, gesticulate at bad drivers, or drink a cup of coffee.
Picking up speed down toward Ocean Avenue, I took a right, pedaling fast past families of bikers on vacation.
“Slow down!” a protective dad yelled.
But this was my bike lane. I couldn’t help but count the number of dogs I passed as I zoomed by. Ten, eleven, twelve...ugh. They were everywhere. Ubiquitous, as Mrs. Schneider would say. (There were a few things I learned in school that year; for some reason, vocab stuck.)
When I got to Natural Bridges State Beach, I locked my bike to a stop sign post and raced full speed ahead to the community center. Why couldn’t this gig have been somewhere private where we wouldn’t be susceptible to public scrutiny? Would everyone who walked past know we were convicts? Or would they just think we were training our pets? If they made us wear fluorescent orange uniforms like those guys who picked up trash on the side of the road I would be so mortified. My palms started to sweat when I saw a circle of teens holding leashes attached to various-sized dogs. I recognized only one of the figures, standing there with a German shepherd. It was Hoodie Boy from school—part of that group that was always getting into trouble. I had now sunk to his level. His sweatshirt, as usual, was still drawn tightly around his face. I was so embarrassed to know someone there.
I slowed down my frantic pace, now trying to take as long as possible to avoid having to participate.
“You must be Iris!” a guy shouted from across the grass. “Come on over!” He waved me toward him. Everyone stared. I suddenly became self-conscious about everything: my hair, my walk, my choice of clothing. Were my arms swinging too much? Too little? I put my
head down so my hair covered my face. I didn’t want anyone to be able to “read me.”
“We were just getting acquainted. I’m Kevin.” He put his hand out. I had no choice but to shake it.
Kevin was not what I expected a dog rehabilitator to look like. He resembled a surfer more than anything else: long blond hair, super-tanned physique.
“Since you’re late...”
“It wasn’t my fault,” I lied, ready to make up some excuse about my dad losing my bike-lock key.
“Everyone got a chance to choose their dogs already,” Kevin said.
“Hey, I didn’t get a choice!” said a huge, towering boy in an oversized plaid jacket and baggy pants that made him look even bigger.
“Randy, you did have a choice,” said Kevin.
“Yeah, between the Chihuahua and the peg leg. Lesser of two evils,” said Randy.
At the end of Randy’s red leash was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen—even worse than the dog I’d had to watch at the beach a few weeks earlier. The Chihuahua’s fur was tattered, and it had an exaggerated underbite.
A girl with wild hair laughed at Randy. “You two are like yin and yang.”
They all laughed.
I took stock of my surroundings. Two girls. Two guys. And me. That made five of us suffering through the same summer stint. What had each of them done to land themselves here? And were they wondering the same about me?
“Let’s go around and introduce ourselves,” said Kevin.          
“Again?” complained Hoodie Boy. It was the first time I had actually heard him speak.
“I’m Kevin, your fearless leader. I’m here to help you train your
dog. But more on that later. As you know, you all are now members of the most coveted community service gig out there. We like to keep the group small so you get a chance to really bond with your animal.”
Was this guy for real? I’d rather bond with a snake...a slug...a tarantula.
“I’m Randy, and I hope I don’t fall on my dog because it won’t survive.” The Chihuahua yapped away.
“Do you remember your dog’s name?” asked Kevin. “Tinkerbelle,” he said. “This is so ridiculous.”
At least I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Next to Randy was a girl with a funky haircut: her brown hair
long in front and short in back, with pink highlights. She wore a big army-green shirt that looked like it had gotten into a fight with a pair of scissors and lost. A quote on a patch sewn to her knee read, Property is theft.
“I’m Talbot, and this dog here is Garrett. He’s part Doberman, part retriever.” The dog licked her face, and I could feel myself start to have a panic attack. “And all love.”
“Shelley,” said the quiet brunette. “Bruce,” she added as she looked down at the bulldog licking itself at her feet.
Last but not least was Hoodie Boy. His legs were tangled up in his dog’s leash. “The dog is named Persia. German shepherd, right?”
Kevin nodded.
“And I’m Oak and I really don’t want to be here.”
For some reason I was taken aback to learn that Hoodie Boy
actually had a real name other than what the girls and I had been calling him for so long.
The girls. I wondered what Ashley and Sierra were doing at this very moment. I was jealous of their freedom to have a summer break. “No one wants to be here,” said Randy, as though reading my mind.
“I think it’s fun!” said Talbot, leaning down to kiss her dog.
So gross.
The long silence made me fidgety. What were we supposed to
do now?
“Hello?” said Talbot.
Was she talking to me?
“It’s your turn,” said Kevin, gesturing toward me.
Before I could get my name out, Hoodie Boy said, “That’s Iris.”
I couldn’t believe that he knew my name. Then I remembered that Kevin had called it out when I’d first arrived; also, word had probably spread about what I’d done at school. Most likely Oak had already shared my crime with the entire group.
“Yeah, I’m Iris, and I don’t have a dog. Which is totally fine by me.”
“Oh yes, you do,” said Randy. “You have my sloppy seconds.” Everyone laughed but me.
“Let me run and get him,” said Kevin, and he took off toward
the community building. He emerged moments later, dog on leash. “Iris, this is Roman. He is a pit bull.”
My heart raced. The week before, I had watched a show called World’s Most Dangerous Pets. And pit bulls were number one on the list, which, after what happened to my mom, didn’t surprise me in the least. They were killing machines. And when they weren’t killing people, surely they were thinking about killing them.
The compact brown dog on the other end of Kevin’s leash looked like a bicep with legs and had an expression on his face like he was hungry. For flesh. Kevin extended the leash out toward me, but when I reached for it, my hands shook so badly I had to put them back at my side.

Jennifer Caloyeras is a novelist and short fiction writer living in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. In English from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an M.A. in English Literature from California State University Los Angeles and an M.F.A. in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.            

Her short stories have been published in Monday Night Literary, Wilde Magazine, Storm Cellar and Booth. She has been a college instructor, elementary school teacher and camp counselor. She is the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger and the Larchmont Ledger.

Links of interest: 
·         Jennifer's website.
·         Strays on Amazon.
·         Twitter - @JenCaloyeras
·         Facebook fan page.
·         Instagram - Jennifercaloyeras
·         Goodreads page.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slobbers, Strays, and Murder

by Paty Jager

When I started conjuring up my Native American amateur sleuth, I knew I wanted her to be an artist. Shandra Higheagle is a potter. She not only makes useful pots but her vases are sought-after art items. To enhance her art, she lives on a mountain that has pockets of clay that she uses to make her vases. Living on a mountain makes her an earthy person, in my mind.

Earthy people love animals and that is true of Shandra. She has a dog. A Newfoundland, Border collie mix and you have Sheba. A large, black and white, shaggy dog. One would think a dog with this mix of breeds would be a good watch dog. Sheba is the exact opposite. She cowers at loud noises, hides behind Shandra when she’s scared, and then when she decides the newcomer won’t hurt her, she rolls onto her back for a belly rub. Most people fear her due to her size, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize she is meek and fearful. 
Sheba loves to ride in the back seat of Shandra’s Jeep, her tongue lolling out, slobbering on the door and seat. She also takes up half of Shandra’s bed. Which works well on the nights Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in dreams and leaves Shandra needing a big, fluffy hug.

Shandra bought the property on the mountain two years earlier. With the land, she also received two strays. One is a woman in her sixties who grew up on the ranch with her grandparents. The day Shandra moved into the cabin on the property, Crazy Lil, as the locals call her, had already set up housekeeping in the tack room in the barn. Lil is good with animals and helping Shandra in her studio. She wears purple clothes that don’t always match or fit well. Along with her purple clothes she can be seen wearing an orange fur around her neck in the form of Lewis the cat. Lewis was a stray that Lil took in. The feline keeps Lil company, like Sheba keeps Shandra company.

The two women also have horses. Shandra rides to the clay pockets and uses another horse with a pack saddle to haul the clay back down the mountain for her to clean and use.
Here is a sneak peek at book three in the Shandra Higheagle Mysteries, Deadly Aim.

Chapter 1
 After a two-week sojourn of teaching and displaying her pottery at an art show in New Mexico, Shandra Higheagle needed this leisurely horseback ride to get back in tune with nature. She breathed deep, inhaling the pine scent and undertones of decaying plant life. The changing colors and brisk autumn air energized Shandra.
Lil, Shandra’s Jill-of-all-trades, had suggested the ride. Every time Shandra spent more than a few days off the mountain she had to get reacquainted with her roots in order to re-submerge herself in her art.
Her bear-sized dog, Sheba, loped ahead disappearing through the huckleberry bushes. The dog loved lumbering over Huckleberry Mountain while Shandra rode her horse. 
It wasn’t just her time away that had Shandra’s mind wandering. Only one week and she’d be attending Ryan’s brother’s wedding to Ryan’s ex-girlfriend. Shandra and the handsome Weippe detective hadn’t made any kind of commitment to one another, but she did find his company pleasurable. And she had to admit, she was curious about his family and the woman who he’d set his sights on marrying in seventh grade.
“Woof! Woof!”
Sheba’s excited bark caught Shandra’s attention. It didn’t sound like her pursuing or scared bark. It had a mournful lilt to it.
“Where are you girl?” Shandra stood in the stirrups and scanned the area she’d last seen her dog. Her gelding, Apple, started dancing nervously and blew air in short snorts. Something had both animals on alert.
“Woof! Woof!”
She zeroed in on the sound and reined Apple that direction. Sheba’s head was down and the way her body shook, she was digging.
“What is it girl?” Shandra dodged a tree limb as Apple snorted and started to back up.
“Whoa. What has you spooked?” She ran a hand down the horse’s neck to soothe him and stared at the ground where Sheba pawed.
Her stomach lurched and her mouth went dry. Sheba dug at the ground next to a bloody, disemboweled body.

More about Deadly AimBook three of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Passion… Secrets… Murder...
The dead body of an illicit neighbor and an old necklace send potter Shandra Higheagle on a chase to find a murderer. Visions from her dead grandmother reveal Shandra is on the right path, but the woods are full of obstacles—deadly ones. Detective Ryan Greer believes Shandra’s dreams will help solve the mystery, but he also knows the curious potter could get herself killed. He’s determined that won’t happen. Until he’s blind-sided. Are Shandra’s powers strong enough to save them both, or will the murderer strike again?
Buy Links:Windtree PressKindle 

Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. She recently returned to the genre of her heart- Mystery.

You can learn more about Paty at her blog - Writing into the Sunset;  her website - http://www.patyjager.netFacebook; her newsletter - Paty’sPrattle; Twitter @patyjag.